Improve your practice.

Enhance your soft skills with a range of award-winning courses.

What is Assertive Communication? Tips on Being More Assertive

November 9, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

It’s important to communicate your needs and views at work but many people find this difficult because they may come across as either too passive or aggressive.

The consequences of this poor communication can increase stress levels. In this article, we explore assertiveness, with a focus on “saying no“.

What is assertive communication?

Assertive communication is when you confidently express your needs and opinions in a fair, honest, and calm way whilst considering the needs and views of other people.

It’s an important skill that reduces stress because it allows you to:

  • Stand up for yourself
  • Say “no” without feeling guilty
  • Express your wants, needs and opinions
  • Maintain self-control
  • Judge the situation and be assertive only when it’s appropriate

The three communication types

There are three different types of communication styles:

Not saying what you thinkExpressing yourself clearly and confidentlyShouting, aggression
Scared to speak up, others attack youSpeaks openly and honestlyInterrupts or talks over others, attacking
Avoids eye contactMaintains eye contactStares, looks judgmentally
Speaks softlySpeaks firmly and at conversational levelSpeaks loudly
Reduces your self-esteemIncreases your self-esteemReduces others’ self-esteem
Gives inCompromisesTakes
Believing that your own needs don’t matterBelieving that everyone’s needs are importantBelieving that your needs are the most important
Unable to say “no” – you feel guilty if you doSays no in an appropriate fashionSays no in an angry and reactive way
Makes body smaller e.g. slouchesRelaxed and welcoming postureClosed posture, makes body bigger, invades personal space

For example:

A colleague approaches you and asks if you can attend a meeting in their place because they’ve double-booked themselves but you have a list of work you need to urgently get through that day.

An aggressive person: “Absolutely not. You always do this! You need to learn to manage your own workload rather than bothering me!”

passive person: “Yeah of course I will.”

An assertive person: “Unfortunately I can’t attend the meeting because I’ve got lots of work to get through today, perhaps there’s someone else you can ask.”

Tips on assertive communication

  • Ensure that you tell the other person how you feel.
  • Listen (actively) to what the other person says and empathize.
  • Accept positive and negative feedback respectfully.
  • Speak at a normal conversational volume.
  • Sound firm but not aggressive.
  • Maintain eye contact.
  • Use “I” statements to get your messages across firmly, such as, “I want”. Aggressive statements tend to begin with “you”.
  • Avoid words that exaggerate, such as, “always” and never”. For example, say “This is the third time this week you’ve delegated your work to me”, rather than “You always give me your work.”
  • Use facts rather than judgements, such as saying “This article has information about X missing” rather than “You’ve done a bad job again.”
  • Use clear-cut verbs so your message gets across, for instance, instead of saying “could” or “should” you can say “will”, rather than using “need” you can say “want”. For example, “I want to attend this conference because…”

Try our presentations training course on assertive communication: Presenting with Confidence.

Examples of assertiveness:

  • “I currently can’t take on any extra projects. My calendar is full for the next month.”
  • “I understand what you’re saying, but I disagree…”
  • “Can you please not walk away when we’re talking?”
  • “Here is a divider I’ve set up. Will you please place your papers here?”
  • “Let’s agree to disagree on this and move on.”
  • “I have a different opinion. I think that…”
  • “I understand that you want me to do the job. However I have already made arrangements for tonight.”
  • “Thanks, but I need some time to myself right now.”
  • “Thanks for thinking of me, but I think I’ll pass on this one.”
  • “This is so important, and I can’t give it the time it deserves right now. Can we make an appointment to talk?”
  • “I disagree with you. I see the situation this way…”
  • “Thank you for sharing, but I’d like to hear from other people in the group.”
  • “I feel offended by your remark.”